Four months ago, the focus was on Notre Dame not because of any championship aspirations, but because of a slew of suspensions and controversial comments made by a radio announcer.
The focus swiftly changed over the next few months, but on Sept. 1, Notre Dame had plenty of distractions involving those who wouldn't play a role in the team's season opener against Navy in Dublin, Ireland. Tommy Rees and Cierre Wood were suspended for the game, taking out the team's starting quarterback and leading rusher from the 2011 season. Radio broadcaster Allen Pinkett was pulled off the trip after saying the team needed more criminals, sparking plenty of debates that had nothing to do with the on-field product at Notre Dame:
Piling on that, Notre Dame had to deal with a secondary most feared would be the team's weak link. Lo Wood's ruptured Achilles' tendon meant KeiVarae Russell, who hadn't played a down of cornerback in his life, would start for the Irish. And Everett Golson was set trot out on the pitch at Aviva Stadium as Notre Dame's starting quarterback with nobody really knowing how he'd fare in that role.
"It can all be decided and look perfect in practice, and when the lights go on -- we all know from being around this game that, when the lights go on, kids react differently," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said before the season. "Some kids play better than they ever play, and some kids play worse."
All this added up to a ton of excess baggage following the Irish across the Atlantic Ocean. But in 60 minutes in Dublin, Notre Dame dispatched Navy with ease, blowing by the Midshipmen 50-10.
"We put 50 points on the board, so that's a pretty good start," coach Brian Kelly aptly summed up.
A year after opening the season with torrent of turnovers in a loss to South Florida, Notre Dame forced four turnovers and only committed one, a sign of things to come in the regular season. Stephon Tuitt's 77-yard touchdown on a fumble recovery punctuated a suffocating defensive effort, while Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III scored a pair of touchdowns apiece, easily making up for the production lost without Wood in the lineup.
Golson wasn't flashy, but he was efficient running a limited playbook, completing 12 of 18 passes for 144 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Ultimately, Notre Dame's win over Navy wasn't a barometer for the rest of the season. Fifty points was Notre Dame's season high, and Atkinson was eventually phased out of the team's playbook as the season wore on. But Riddick emerged as a legitimate threat out of the backfield after his previous foray into receiving, and he would hold on to that No. 1 running back role throughout the season.
What Notre Dame's season opener did do was set the tone for a team which greatly improved its turnover ratio from 2011. A year after coughing up the ball 10 times in its first two games, Notre Dame largely held on to the football while forcing plenty of turnovers from its opponents.
And overall, the easy 50-10 win was the first inclination that this wasn't the same Notre Dame team that went 8-5 in the previous two years.
Stay with CSNChicago.com every weekday through the end of January for game-by-game reviews of Notre Dame's run to the BCS Championship.